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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Most Likely to Succeed: Striking the Balance

Most Likely to Succeed Trailer from One Potato Productions on Vimeo.

Our system leadership chose to present the film, Most Likely to Succeed, at our system-wide faculty meeting today. It was a provocative film that presented many questions and examples about what it means to teach well with the example of High Tech High in San Diego.

As I collaborate with colleagues at my grade level, school, and system, I want to think about how and when I will implement, advocate for, and question the many points made in the film. I also want my State educational administrators to think deeply about the questions posed in this film as they create new standardized tests.

In general I remain a fan of a balanced approach with regard to traditional school and new ways to educate and learn, yet I recognize that sometimes a balanced approach may mean not doing enough of what we should do. So in that respect, I'm a fan of collaboratively working together as teams to develop schools that meet the needs of students today and for the future.

The points that I am taking home from the film include the following:

Focus on the Soft Skills
The film looks at collaboration, critical thinking skills, debate, perseverance/work ethic as "soft skills" that are integral to preparing students well for any kind of life pursuits and happiness. I really liked the way that they focused on developing those skills in students with sensitivity, questioning, and opportunity for student voice. At High Tech High they give students substantial time and freedom to practice these skills by leading their own learning as well as structured and informal opportunities for reflection, share, and goal setting.

Currently, at our school, social competency which includes these soft skills is a focus. The goal for me is to deepen the way I embed the opportunity for students to explicitly learn, practice, reflect, share, and goal set around these skills. I think this is best done by creating patterns of effort and practice within meaningful project based work. There is a great deal of research and examples available with which to develop this capacity in ourselves and students as we continue down this road.

Presentation and Public Exhibits
High Tech High has an end of year public exhibit which is the pinnacle moment at the school when students' final projects are displayed for the learning/teaching teams including their peers, educators, families, and community members. The film noted how the use of presentation and public exhibit motivates students to do their best, high quality work. The public exhibits were described as the "evidence" of the year's learning or as noted in the film, the "blood, sweat, and tears" of the year's efforts. One educator in the film described students' delight when they "make something that wasn't there before."

Again, our school often has open houses and public presentations of students' continued learning including plays, concerts, project presentations, story circles, and more. I want to think about how I can utilize public presentations more in order to develop students' sense of ownership, pride, presentation skills, and share. I believe this can be done well in tandem with our interdisciplinary teaching/learning efforts.

Learning is an Organic Enterprise
Sir Ken Robinson was featured throughout the film. I always like to listen to his points related to education, and in this film, I liked the way he focused on the fact that learning and people are organic, complex systems that grow and evolve over the years much like a garden.

I love the garden metaphor for learning and teaching and I believe that it's in our best interest to openly share, exemplify, develop, and discuss optimal learning opportunities to teach children well. We do this as a grade level team and school team. I also do this on my own as I continue to develop my practice.

Intellectual Freedom, Passion, and Autonomy
The film highlighted the importance of intellectual freedom, passion, and autonomy with regard to both students and educators. This focus comes up again and again in the literature today related to successful organizations, knowledge workers, and future success. The film discussed the need in the future for our students to question authority as well as to think and act with innovation.

I am a big fan of intellectual freedom, passion, and autonomy with respect to doing our best work, and I'm also a big fan of timely, deep collaboration that helps us to work together to create the best possible teaching/learning teams, schools, and systems. I believe that timely, transparent communication and share helps to foster dynamic teams, and I believe that systems and schools profit from research and development, trying out new ideas, and supporting one another with honest discussion and debate related to what works with regard to teaching and learning well.

Project Based Learning
High Tech High focuses on interdisciplinary project based learning which involves multiple, innovative investigations that prompt students to probe and poke in order to learn.

Students love project/problem based learning, and when done well, they learn a lot as demonstrated in the film. Educators today face the challenge of preparing students for mostly two-dimensional standardized tests in a world that's calling for greater three-dimensional teaching and learning. For many this puts them in a difficult position, but a continued balanced approach that includes more and more deep, project based learning that embeds the two-dimensional requirements of standardized testing is one way to reach from the past to the present. It's also important that educators, parents, and others continue to advocate for the best approaches to learning and teaching within the contexts where they live and work. I admire greatly the work done at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia and I believe that Chris Lehmann and Zac Chase provide a terrific road map to building wonderful schools that prepare students for good lives and successful futures in their recently published book, Building Schools 2.0.

Few Workers Needed: Future Opportunities?
I heard it said at a conference at Google several years ago, and then I heard it again in this film, many jobs, as we know them, will be replaced by technology and automation. In both cases, people worried as they expressed this issue and questioned what this means. I believe this change leads us to think about the ways we can better serve one another. I have heard people call this "communitarianism." If we need less people to do the essential day-to-day work, then I believe we can use that time and our human resources to deepen and better the way we work with one another to live good lives and expand opportunity to all. This movement towards greater collaboration, stronger communities, and better service to our planet(s) and each other will provide us with future endeavor that is positive and forward moving.

I think it's great that our system made the time to show all faculty a provocative film. I look forward to the open dialogue, discussion, and potential changes that occur as a result of this event. In the meantime, I want to work with my grade level colleagues at school and my PLN to look for ways that I can broaden and deepen the work I do to create greater opportunity for all students to learn in ways that forward their knowledge, concept, skill with regard to learning well in today's world. Onward.

More Ideas to Consider from the Faculty Discussion of the Film
I want to think more about these ideas in the days to come.

  • The value of time, should we re-look at how we use time.
  • When to jump in to help?
  • Students desire more time to create, innovate
  • Should we begin the year with a STEAM week
  • The movie was both inspiring and frustrating--inspiring with regard to new ideas, frustrating with regard to real and/or perceived limitations
  • How do we invite parents in to discuss this film and idea
  • How do we build the foundation skills to participate in rich STEAM activities including reading, writing, math. . .
  • How do they gain the supplies as they had some wonderful supplies
  • How to we build in time for reflection
  • How do we make time for that feeling of accomplishment
  • Identified the safety, support, inclusivity of the school--how do we make sure that we replicate that in our own school
  • Seems like we used to do more of this, but now things seem more prescribed
  • People power in this regard is important, modeling
  • Productive struggle is important, being okay with not having the answer right away, developing perseverance
  • Students and teachers had autonomy, mastery, and purpose yet they were still accountable.